Friday, July 31, 2009

20/20 Hindsight

It's funny how much clearer things are in hindsight. Just look at this picture. As you look forward the picture is blurred but as you look in the rear view mirror, the picture is much crisper. That, of course, is how I see things when I look back over my time here at Crossroads. Had I the benefit of knowing two and a half years ago what I know now, there are things I would have done differently. You and I don't have the ability to see the future and that's not altogether bad. God does have the ability to see the future because He's already been there. I make the best decisions that I can with the information that I have and trust that God will honor my faithfulness. Even now I don't know how making different decisions and taking different actions would have impacted our future.

In life, we don't often get "do-overs" but God has chosen to offer us grace through Christ. Grace doesn't mean that our mistakes are good, it just means that they can be forgiven and that's an incredible gift. We need to look in the rear view mirror to learn from the past but our future lies ahead, not behind us.

How do you find balance between looking forward and looking backward and how does grace help you move ahead?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Let's make a deal

I hate haggling. I know that some people just enjoy the sport of negotiation but that's exactly what I most dislike about buying a car. Just tell me the price and I'll determine whether it's worth that to me or not.

This is our final week at Crossroads and it's "Make Me An Offer" week. The way that it works is that you gather up the items that you want to purchase and bring them to a desk next to the check-out area. Our consultant, Mr. Lane Hoage, totals up the retail value of your purchase, gives you that total, and you make him an offer. Any reasonable offer is accepted. If your offer is not reasonable, he'll make you a counter-offer. When the deal is done, you simply pay the agreed total. The vast majority of our customers have made reasonable offers but there have been a few exceptions. Two customers this week have made the generous offer of 5% of the already reduced price of a product . . . just 95% off of the sale price! I'll let you guess what the outcome of those negotiations were.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Some people just ooze sweetness

Some people just ooze sweetness and Helen Garwin was one of those people. It wasn't that long ago that both Helen and her husband Joe passed away. I only met Joe a couple of times but I knew Helen from her frequent visits to our bookstore. The fact that he was married to Helen was proof enough for me that Joe must have been a great guy, too. I have to confess that I really don't remember so much of what Helen bought in our store, I just remember her sweetness. Helen was a retired nurse who had cared for her husband for the 30 or so years since they were involved in an auto accident that took the life of their son and severely injured Joe. She had a kind but fragile voice, one you might expect to hear coming from a timid person but I expect that Helen was something more than timid. II Timothy 1:7 is a passage of scripture that comes to mind when I think about who was behind that voice. I imagine that along with that sweetness was the power, love and self-discipline that Paul wrote about.

Monday, July 27, 2009

How cell phones can hamper your relationships

The first time that I really became concerned about the impact of cell phones on relationships was one night when my wife and I were having dinner in a local restaurant. Julia and I were having a conversation when a woman in her late fifties and a young girl about 10 years old (that we presumed was her granddaughter) were seated at a table near us. The grandmother was on her cell phone when they were seated, she was on her cell phone when they ordered, and she was on her cell phone throughout the entire meal. She never spoke to the young girl even once during the time that we were there, which was at least another half hour. I couldn't help but wonder if she was bragging to the person with whom she was talking on her cell phone that she was having dinner with her granddaughter? That 10 year old girl might as well have been sitting at a table by herself.

I've seen moms and dads pushing their kids in strollers, paying no attention to the child but happily chatting away on their cell phones. I've watched parents talk on their cell phones in lieu of interacting with their kids on the playground or in the grocery store. I've seen adults engaged in conversation on their cell phone while their companion sits in silence.

Let's get a couple of things out of the way:
  1. I do have a cell phone
  2. I don't believe that cell phones are inherently evil.
That being said, I do think that cell phones are far less the miracle of communication that some people would have us believe. Cell phones are useful but they can also be an obstacle to our relationship with others when they interfere with healthy, face-to-face conversation. When someone offers me their most precious commodity, their time, I think they deserve my attention, as well.

How can you and I strike a balance between functionality and misuse of cell phones?

Friday, July 24, 2009

A funny thing happened on the way out of business

The last few weeks here at Crossroads have provided us with a lot of laughter. You'd think this would be a sad time for us as this ministry comes to a close and it has been sad in some respects. There have been more than our share of funny things that have happened, too. Here are just a few examples:
  • In the first days of the Business Closing Sale with signs plastered all over the building, inside and out, screaming-out Business Closing, a customer asks, "Are you really going out of business?" Nah . . . we were just kidding!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Card Lady

We all have a calling and Peggy Copeland's calling is card writing. I met Peggy in our bookstore about a dozen years ago and although she may have bought other things from us from time to time, the main thing she came for was greeting cards. She told me that this was her ministry. God had called her to encourage people by sending them cards.

When Peggy learned that my mother was widowed, lived alone and had suffered an injury that severely limited her mobility, she asked for her mailing address. It was only then that I learned the impact of her ministry. My mother showed me a card Peggy had sent her that included a brief but personal note and she wondered about this woman and why she sent her this card. That was the first of several cards that my mother received from Peggy over the next couple of years. The two women have never met but Peggy continues to minister to my mother by encouraging her in the notes she sends her.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Freedom from unhealthy desires

One of the greatest gifts that God can give us is granting us freedom from unhealthy desires. In my case, God has largely freed me from the need for more stuff. I love the VeggieTale DVD, Madame Blueberry. I love how Phil Vischer and his talented team took us on a journey through Stuff-Mart and taught us that it's not more stuff that brings us happiness. I especially love that the target audience is young kids and that they are being taught this very important lesson early in life.

Part of learning to be content is letting go of the need for more. Remember that the opposite of poverty is not wealth but enough. When we let go of that need for more stuff and experience freedom from unhealthy desires, we open ourselves up to a whole new world of satisfaction and contentment. It's amazing how much happier I am when I'm not craving more stuff.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Customer expectations

As a consumer, I enjoy good customer service as much as the next guy. I like to be treated respectfully and fairly. As a customer service provider, my goal is to do the same: to be respectful, to treat the customer fairly and to "delight the customer" in some small way. I think that's what our friends in Louisiana call lagniappe, loosely translated "a little something extra." I think this is a reasonable expectation from both sides of the picture, whether you're the provider of the service or the receiver of the service. I make it a point to recognize and affirm good service as I experience it. Affirmation may come in the form of a generous tip or a sincere"Thank you . . . you did a good job." It's most appreciated by continued patronage and a favorable recommendation to others.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Time to lay off the Blue Bell ice cream

I had a woman that I didn't even know refer to me as "that rolly polly guy" this week. Ouch! Disregard the fact that she was a customer who was unhappy because something that she wanted to purchase in our liquidation sale was sold before she arrived or that we declined her offer to purchase a fixture for merely 80% off of the price that it was marked or that she made an insulting comment to our consultant about our sale strategy and procedures . . . getting called fat by a stranger still stings!

I guess it's time to lay off the Blue Bell ice cream and the fried seafood and the sweet tea and the Krispy Kreme doughnuts . . . OK, you get the picture. As much as I wish that I could blame the extra 60 pounds that I'm toting around on a metabolic or glandular problem, the truth is that it's just a lack of self-discipline on my part. I've used the "I'm a stress-eater" excuse until even I don't believe it anymore.

It's a shame that it takes a rude stranger to wake me up. Hold me accountable . . . if you see me eating something unhealthy or fattening, just call me a rolly polly.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Commaholic

Cool! I coined another word: Commaholic. I owe an apology to every English grammar teacher I've ever had. It's not that they were bad teachers or even that I was a bad student, it's just that somehow I've lost control of my use of commas. Any time that I have a pause in my thoughts, I tend to insert a comma. The good news, of course, is that when the Great Comma Famine comes, I'll have many extra commas squirreled away in my writings to see me through. I should be able to write for years to come just by using the excess commas that already exist in my writing.

Does anyone want to suggest a good reference for me to use to brush-up on the proper use of commas?

Friday, July 10, 2009

I'm a Recovering Pharisee

"Hi, my name is Ken and I'm a Recovering Pharisee." Kinda sounds like the way I might introduce myself at a P.A. (Pharisees Anonymous) meeting, doesn't it?

I will forever be grateful to Mike and Phyllis Young for introducing me to the term Recovering Pharisee. I actually heard about their use of the term second-hand from someone else but it needed no explanation. You see, Mike and Phyllis came from a strict religious upbringing and their journey of faith had taken them into a denomination and religious tradition quite unlike the one from which they had come. There were experiencing a much greater expression of freedom in worship than that to which they were accustomed and they were having to make adjustments to this.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Maxcellent

If I can't claim any other accomplishment in life, at least I can claim to be the person who coined the term Maxcellent. Philip Kierce was a frontliner in my bookstore, The Good Book, several years ago. He pointed out to me that Max Lucado's name on the cover of his latest book at that time was actually in a larger font than the title of the book. My response was that Max was a top selling author of Christian books and that his name recognition alone sells his books. There are many excellent writers out there but Max was a cut above . . . in fact, he was a Maxcellent writer. Of course, Max is not the first writer to have his name prominently splashed across the cover of a book. There were others before him and others after him but that's not the point. I'm just thankful that he provided me an opportunity to add another word to the English language. I'm not delusional. I realize that my word is not in anyone's dictionary nor even in anyone else's vocabulary but mine and a few of my friends and family but it still feels good to do something original.

What about you? What words or terms have you coined?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Feeding the poor in Haiti

Jim Caple, a friend of mine who pastors a church in Florida, recently returned from a trip to Haiti. God gave Jim a heart for the people of Haiti many years ago (but that's another story) and he's been there several times. I was listening to the message that he preached the Sunday after he returned and was struck by one of the stories he told. He was preaching from the beatitudes and specifically on what Jesus says about mercy in Matthew 5:7 and also referencing the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37.

In that message, he relayed a story about ministering to people in one of Haiti's poor houses. (Jim points out that almost every house is Haiti is a poor house but this poor house is a place where those who have no one else to care for them gather.) Jim's group had prepared a meal of rice and beans to feed them; a few of the people had bowls or plates but most of them didn't. When those without a bowl or plate came to be served, they simply pulled up their shirt tail to form a pouch and motioned for Jim to spoon the beans and rice into their shirt. They returned to a corner to sit and eat the food from their shirt.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sincerely Wrong


In Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller writes, "At the end of the day, when I lie in bed and know that the chances of any of our various theologies being exactly right are about a million to one, I take comfort that God has things figured out."

OK, I guess that settles the question about whether or not my theology is the right one. So what does this say about your efforts and mine to understand God if it's already assumed that we miss the mark on some points of theology? I think it says that God is God and I am not. He's beyond my full understanding but that's what makes the mystery of God so intriguing. That's exactly what feeds my appetite to know Him more, to understand who He is, who I am and how we fit together. Does this mystery mean that God doesn't want me to know Him? Absolutely He wants me to know Him!

In a conversation I had with a person who followed a faith that's considered a cult by mainstream Christians, it became clear that his theology and mine were incompatible because much of his theology was based on writings other than scripture. In the end, all I could say to him was, "I believe you're sincere but I believe you're sincerely wrong." Being sincere in what I believe is not enough. Being sincere doesn't make me right. My theology must stand up to the test of scripture. And so must yours.

What constitutes minor points of theological disagreement and what are the indisputable points for you?